|Sharpen your chef knife and get ready for our next Cook-Along!|
|It’s hot as blazes, and your appetite is on vacation, but you DO need to keep up your cancer-fighting immune system and stay hydrated. Let’s turn to the Mediterranean cultures’ foodways (and maybe picture ourselves on a beautiful beach or in the Pyrenees) for some ideas. Lately, many diet experts and doctors suggest we adopt the best practices from Mediterranean cooking, but it’s not a diet or a fad! Fresh and fabulous are two good reasons to adopt this lifestyle! See the full newsletter: Click here|
Newsletter-Invite August 9
|We’re Getting Ready for our next|
|Need a little mid-summer inspiration? Encouragement and usable knowledge? Come and cook with us (in your own kitchen) in real time. Like a sing-along but for food! We’ll give you the recipe and a grocery list and meet you back here next Sunday. See the full newsletter here.|
Newsletter-Invite July 26
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Bird-watching at the Gould Family Farm
This is the reward you get when you don’t use sprays that kill all the bugs and contaminate food and water: a chance to check off names on your birder’s life-list without leaving your backyard! In addition, we have water available, feeders in winter, and lots of native plants too. Tree pruning is done in winter and late summer to preserve nesting spaces and let families raise their young. Oh, and the corvid family – crows, magpies and jays – are fed peanuts to keep them watching out for predators, like an alarm system. This is where food should come from! A place full of life!
The Season for Sweets
A Native American elder once told me that the reason so many people consume so much sugar and have type II diabetes is that life isn’t as sweet as in the days of his youth. I wonder if that is because we are caught up in more acidic and bitter events, these days. Watching the news sure leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth. A recent World Economic Forum report and an article by professor Carol Graham of the Brookings Institution concur that, while the U.S. economy seems to be thriving and growing, happiness and our social fabric may be at stake as well as health and even longevity due partly to the ravages of despair. Sounds like our diet: we are (collectively) overweight and undernourished.
But what if we acknowledge and respond to this other craving for sweetness, not just processed sugar? We can spot sugary junk-food almost anywhere, so why not seek the other kind, the little life-candies?
Right now, for example, I can smell the recently picked pineapple quince, great fat fruit produced by a skinny little tree on its first attempt at fruiting. It struggled to hold it all up, but now its fragrant, floral-smelling fruit is waiting to be cooked.
Fall sunlight glows on my orange feral cat, the de facto “barn cat”, as he hints that he’d like a meal this evening. I can’t touch this kitty yet, but I can just feel the sun-on-fur sensation in my mind. The autumn sun/breeze combination is pretty good on my own skin, too.
Outside my window two flickers are playfully flirting and chasing each other around, occasionally dropping a feather for me to collect. Meanwhile the crows and magpies line up on the fence to get their peanuts and have their own party.
With cool nights, all three of my dogs fit themselves into one big bed like jigsaw pieces, no grumbling or growling. Sweet!
Canning and dehydrating projects put up summer sweetness for colder months, while providing a sense of satisfaction and a little food security just by sitting there on the shelf, ready when needed. Quince butter!
My big red hens scratch happily in fallen yellow leaves.
The acrid arguments over pumpkin-spice-everything can be hushed with truly rich and delicious pumpkin recipes – thai curry with pumpkin and coconut milk, gnocchi, creamy soups, roasted fall veggie combos, low/no-sugar pumpkin bread, pumpkin flan, etc., the REAL stuff!
Soon the last winter squashes will be picked and cured before turning them into savory-sweet dishes, the sweet potatoes will be dug up, too, and then the end-of-summer turnover will make a clean slate for rows of winter greens. I guess that’s bitter-sweet – goodbye to summer, but hello to cool season plants.
Real, unadulterated, fresh-pressed cider. Enough said, right?
And it’s time to get out those favorite sweaters and bundle up in a knitted hug. Then go outside at night and check out those crisp, brilliant stars. Breathe in that smoke-free, almost peppermint-y air.
The addictive properties of processed sugars may have warped our taste-buds and our cravings, just as our harried, hustling, lifestyles may have caused us to rush past moments of pure deliciousness happening right around us. We can take back that genuine sweetness by being a bit more mindful about what nourishes us, both food-wise and mentally/spiritually/emotionally. Don’t we all crave real connection, real food, and real quality time? Treat yourself!
Are you watching your sugar intake for health reasons? Try some of these natural substitutions. Once they break down in your system, sugars are essentially the same, but unlike refined sugars, these have redeeming qualities such as fiber, anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals. Do your research to see which fit your health needs and your recipes best.
|Sweetener||Sub for 1c Sugar||Adjust liquid||Notes|
|Honey||½ – ¾ c||Reduce by ¼ c
If there’s no other liquid, add 3tbsp flour
|Reduce baking temp by 25°|
|Maple syrup||¾ c||Reduce by 3 tbsp||Add ¼ tsp baking soda|
|Date sugar||2/3 – 1c||Burns easily, doesn’t dissolve|
|Stevia||1tsp – 1/3 c||Add 1/8 c||Adjust as you experiment|
|Molasses||½ c||Darker flavor|
|Piloncillo/rapadura||1 c||Darker flavor|
|Coconut Sugar||1c||Darker flavor, not great with lemon recipes. Coarser – let dissolve in liquids.|
For more information on eating to support your wellness and for stupid-easy, madly tasty, secretly healthy recipes, visit https://producewithapurpose.wordpress.com
Beans, squashes, and tomatoes are having their annual resurgence, with straggling plants greening up miraculously and even producing late fruit. It’s an unpredictable phenomenon, terrible for planning, when early fall weather whip-saws between summery days and almost wintery nights. Do the fruits and veggies of this short reboot taste better because the growing conditions are less extreme than mid-summer, because the plant is older and wiser, or is it because I know the supply is ending and I’ll have to wait another year for sun-ripe tomatoes? While I have fall-winter seedlings nearly ready to plant, it seems so ungrateful and merciless to tear out plants that are offering a last taste of summer foods. But I must do it soon!
Of course large-scale farms have none of these concerns. They mainly grow for one-time harvests, sometimes done by machine, sometimes before full ripeness, before full flavor and nutrient richness. It seems to me like ageism, the idea that people are most valuable at a certain age, in their dewy youth, and the rest are of little worth. In some places, tomatoes grow as perennials, adapting for winter just as humans can be late bloomers and offer something completely different than they did in their exuberant, immature stage.
For example, Alexander Fleming accidentally invented penicillin and only received, the Nobel Prize in 1945, at age 64. Parkinson’s disease was identified by James Parkinson when he was 62, and 63 year old Polish countess Rosa Branicka contributed to the field of breast cancer surgery by operating on herself.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his New Yorker piece “Late Bloomers”, “On the road to great achievement, the late bloomer will resemble a failure.” Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote de la Mancha, experienced financial troubles, gunshot wounds, kidnap by pirates, jail time, and the loss of the use of his left hand before publishing his masterpiece at age 50. With that success he went on to write poems and novellas, including Don Quixote part II, which was published only months before his death at 68.
Grandma Moses (Anna Mary Robertson Moses) only began painting her famous naïf scenes at the age of 75, when arthritis made it too hard to embroider. She continued painting some 3,600 paintings until close to her death at age 101. Her paintings originally sold for $2 or $3, but Sugaring Off (1943) sold for $1.2 million in 2006.
In spite of/because of his OCD-type struggles, including obsessive list-making , Peter Roget published Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases at 73 and kept working on it until he died at 90.
Helen Mirren, who won an Oscar at age 61, told Gabriel Bell of Refinery 29, “”There are the privileged few who just seem to waft through life without having to ever meet any adversity or difficulty, which is really annoying…The rest of us, we have to struggle and fight.” After years of acting, Viola Davis played a role opposite Meryl Streep in the film Doubt and was finally noticed. She was nominated twice for Oscars before winning for the film Fences. Now 51 years old (well past ingénue by Hollywood standards), she recently won an Emmy for her role in How to Get Away With Murder, the first African-American actress to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.
Cooking and crafts master Martha Stewart launched Martha Stewart Living magazine at 49 and then built her empire from there. In1963, 50-year-old Julia Child began hosting “The French Chef,” the first of many, many cooking shows that helped introduce Americans to international cooking and flavor.
All of these folks muddled through, made mistakes, got sidetracked (or kidnapped by pirates), thought they were on the right track… until they found some unexpected heat and nourishment and burst forth like my veggies. Personally, I am not one of those annoying people Helen Mirren referred to that have wafted through life, so I want to salute ALL of the late bloomers who found (or will find) their calling, their reboot, their purpose, their gifts and hidden talents, their fresh inspiration, their happy accidents, and their rich, ripe fruits! This is your season!
Here is a ridiculously easy and tasty late summer recipe from Catalunya, where fresh produce nearly bursts out of Barcelona’s markets at this time of year.
Xamfaina with Pa amb Tomaquet
2 med eggplants (dark purple, round variety)
2 large red bell peppers
1 large yellow onion
1/2 head garlic, minced
Olive oil and red wine vinegar
- In a baking pan, roast the whole eggplant, peppers and onion at 450 degrees (baked potato heat)
- When all are soft and a bit squishy, remove them from the oven with tongs, place them in a paper bag to “blister”. After 5-10 minutes, take them out and peel them, then cut them in long strips and lay them out on a platter.
- Dress them with the garlic, salt, a drizzle of oil and a splash of vinegar – to taste. Let sit for a little while before enjoying at room temperature.
Serve on Pa amb Tomaquet which is sliced rustic bread with overripe tomato squished onto the bread until it is pink and tomatoey. Salt lightly and drizzle olive oil over it – not enough to be soggy! Or serve on pizza, focaccia, or your non-gluten preference, rice, polenta… Enjoy!
Extreme is the New Normal
Is “extremely mild” too much of an oxymoron? Climate change has brought us an extremely mild late summer-early fall season, which is perfect for me, a born New Englander, and my dog Pumpkin, who loathes the heat. It’s not great for eggplant and tomatoes. I usually enjoy a resurgence among some plants like beans and a last hurrah from tomatoes that goes well into late October and often makes me turn the field over later than I should. Is this it? Should my broccoli and garlic be in the ground already? Should I be getting ready to cover the citrus trees?
As a micro-farmer who plants for variety, I have built-in flexibility and resilience. Large producers, however, had a late spring, a slow start getting plants going, and now may see an early fall. Predictability affects their sale prices, contracts, soil amendments and labor, and the many variables that go into producing food for us. It’s a big puzzle, and the parameters keep shifting around. The jet stream, that ribbon of wind that circles the globe, used to undulate gently, giving us our patterns of weather. It has gone haywire. Weather predictions, like the Old Farmers’ almanac use the past decades’ weather records to make predictions, but who could see these wild contortions coming? Even for myself, the lack of predictable weather means some of my seed choices and planting plans will be mocked by the weird weather. If you garden, and things didn’t flourish as expected, don’t feel bad – it’s probably nothing that you did. But we should be aware that our food system is facing real challenges.
I am not complaining about the milder growing conditions, even if my late tomatoes and sweet potatoes are taking their time about maturing in the hoop house. This year has seen extreme fires all over California, the largest and most furious on record. Hawai’i is experiencing extreme flooding, and hurricane season isn’t over yet. Death Valley, Australia and India broke heat records this year, while Russia and New England broke records for the coldest temperatures. Coral is bleaching away due to warmer and more acidic sea water, and Florida is seeing extremely toxic algae blooms and terrible aquatic animal die-offs. And the damage to wildlife populations….extreme is the new normal.
I think we must admit that humans have a hand in these events and that recycling cans and ditching straws is too mild a response to undo this extreme mess. If for no other reason than to protect our own food supply and physical safety in the immediate future, we can’t address this mess with tepid, baby-step remedies.
In addition to climate extremes, we are also facing social extremes. (Related?) Extreme inhumanity and an alarming lack of compassion in some cases, where a victim’s otherness is used to justify violence and cruelty. We see extreme greed and selfishness, me-first-ism, and isolationism raised to near cult status. Materialism and economic disparity are reaching extreme levels too. We hear extremely, outrageously dishonest statements daily. Young people witness extreme acts of violence and injustice, enough that it affects their development. Will we accept this as normal?
Just as with climate change, our response to these extremes cannot be mild or wishy-washy. We have to take a solid stand both for the planet and for our fellow beings. We need to say a firm “No!” to extreme toxicity, whether that is between humans or between humans and the planet.
As I have said before, eating mostly produce from small, non-toxic, earth-friendly farms is one way to push back firmly against climate change. Eating that delicious food with other people may help revive our humanity and give us a break from the extremes.
Tomatillos are resilient plants and seem to thrive no matter the weather shifts. And they make a stupendous salsa you can share alongside some (healthy) chips. Use it again the next morning to make Huevos Rancheros! You can make it extremely mild, if you like, or extremely hot!
1 pound of tomatillos in the husk
2-4 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp minced cilantro
Wash the ingredients and pat dry. On a flat griddle set on medium heat lay out the tomatillos, garlic and jalapeños. Toast, moving them around, flipping them every few minutes until they are browned on the outside and soft on the inside.
Peel garlic and tomatillos and put them in a blender or food processor. Remove the stem and seeds from the peppers and add them to the blender. Add cilantro and salt to taste, and blend to the desired consistency (chunky vs smooth).
For Huevos Rancheros toast yellow corn tortillas with a little oil on a griddle. Fry an egg or two per person. When tortillas are golden and crisped on the griddle side but soft on the other, serve them with an egg on top of each tortilla and warmed up salsa over the top.
Of Farmers and Firefighters
Farmers’ lives and daily tasks are intimately tied up with the climate and weather. Overnight temperatures for tomatoes. Soil temperature for planting and moisture for tilling. Daylight hours for onions. This morning I took advantage of the cool, still morning to mow down some thistle and creosote plants. All good until the wind came up, whirling the grass and dust directly to the interior of my bra and into my eyes. As the day warmed up, I tried to weed between my tender plants, but the sweat in my eyes limited my effectiveness, and I moved on to the next chore. The way soil absorbs water is also altered by excessive dry heat, affecting root growth dramatically. Irrigation fittings can dry, crack or clog, watering too much here and not enough there. In the heat, plant leaves struggle with the excessive UV rays and dry wind. Last year in Yolo county, the tomato crop was 17% lower than expected. The weather challenges are real and affecting our food supply. The weeds, however, apparently have no such weakness.
In California, summer is fire season as much as tomato season, predictably threatening like the hurricane season around the Caribbean sea. It’s the season to worry about friends and family who live in flammable places. And the animals who don’t get warnings via the internet. Hourly reports tell of evacuations, losses, and heroes. And the pictures of the hellscape are terrifying. What firefighters used to consider the biggest wildfire of a career is now an annual event. The fires are bigger, the season longer, the resources spread thinner. The big air-tankers fly in and out of the nearby airbase all day, loaded with water or flame-retardants, headed toward the massive wildfires.
Locally, we face mainly grass fires, and the fire departments are incredibly fast and skilled at containing them almost as soon as the helicopters buzzing above spot a plume of smoke. But when it’s hot and windy, all of a farm’s metal power tools should stop, as a single spark can cause disaster, in spite of the excellent fire crews.
In case anybody still doubts that climate change is real and not just part of natural cycles, both firefighters and farmers can attest to the unnatural changes. Both are adjusting as fast as they can. They aren’t looking at charts of accelerating temperature rises or maps of the unstable jet stream so much as experiencing dramatic changes firsthand and looking for solutions.
Meanwhile, what can we do to protect our food, water, and air — as well as our safety — from climate change disasters? How can we stop global warming’s threats? First, we must demand a green energy. Push the businesses you buy from, and push your representatives in government to get rid of fossil fuels right away. We can’t stand any more air pollution or the oil spills into our waters. How is every parking lot in California not yet covered with solar panels generating clean energy (while my car is still 1000 degrees inside)? Demand better.
Second, the meat industry is a huge polluter. Producing, processing, and shipping livestock en masse creates massive greenhouse gas pollution, accounting for 15% of emissions! As the Meatless Monday promoters say, “Studies suggest that if everyone went meatless one day a week, by 2050 the yearly reduction in greenhouse gas emissions could be up to 1.3 gigatons! That’s the equivalent of taking over 273 million passenger vehicles off the road, or closing 341 coal-fired power plants, for a year.” How about 2 days a week? “Less meat = less heat.”
Third, buy food from small, conscientious farmers who reject pesticides, who don’t pollute water with fertilizers, and who sequester carbon in their soils by limiting tilling. Yes, plants collect carbon, break down, and become part of the soil, and that’s where carbon should be staying. But big ag tears up thousands of acres of that soil and sends the carbon back into the air.
These three things are within our reach as regular citizens and consumers. We don’t have to be smoke-jumping super-heroes. We can do this and save the planet and ourselves.
Food for thought: here’s a fiery, garlicky tomato sauce for summer. The best tomatoes are at your farmers’ market now!
1/4 cup olive oil
5 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
4 cups chopped fresh tomato
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes or 2 whole red chilis
8 leaves fresh basil, chopped, plus more for garnish
Pasta of your choice, cooked according to directions.
In a sauté pan warm the olive oil on low. Add in the garlic, chili, and basil and let them flavor the oil for 15-20 minutes, giving the pan a swirl every few minutes. Make sure it is not hot enough to smoke or burn the ingredients.
At about 12 minutes, boil water to prepare your pasta, timing it to be ready as soon as the sauce is done.
Once the oil is fully flavored (smells basil-garlicky), turn up the heat to medium. Stir in tomatoes, bringing them to a low boil, but being careful to avoid spatter. Cook for only 4-5 minutes, until the tomatoes are just softened and the oil has flavored them. Salt to taste.
Serve immediately over the cooked and drained pasta. Garnish with parmesan or vegan parmesan and a leaf or two of basil.
State Fair Challenge: Eating (Relatively) Healthy Food in the Belly of the Beast
Once upon a time, county and state fairs were showplaces for the choicest, fresh-grown and homemade foods of the region, a harvest season blow-out with giant pumpkins, blue-ribbon pickles, pie-eating contests, fiery chili-contests and bake-offs, show chickens and fresh eggs, hand-churned butter (replaced in some places by butter sculpture now), and of course the sweet treats we craved. Even back then, we ate cotton candy and drank sodas and then shook it all up on the rides. I remember vomiting it all out the rear window of the station wagon on the way home. Today’s fair foods are almost synonymous with the junkiest of junk foods such as deep fried twinkies, a Krispy Kreme hamburger, buckets of soda, neon blue slushies, chocolate-covered bacon, and the dreaded corn dog. But the fresh farm products are harder to find. So between my grown-up, health conscious palate and my mixed-bag of cherished/regrettable memories, I headed into the California State Fair on a quixotic and idealistic quest: find something reasonably healthy to eat at the fair. I’m not looking for a booth with kale-and-quinoa-on-a-stick and beet-flavored shaved-ices. Just…something for everyone.
Into the belly of the beast! Through the smoke of grills and fryers!
In the main food courts, I found that the Thai, Chinese, Greek, and Mexican stands had at least one vegetarian option, although some with cheese, which vegans would do without. Thai and Chinese places had rice or noodles with veggies. The Greek gyros booth served falafel, and Pepe’s Mexican locales offered fresh ceviche, veggie burritos, and most important, aguas frescas. If you aren’t familiar with the Spanish name, it’s fresh fruit-infused water, served ice cold. The pineapple was yummy, hibiscus tea is always tangy, and you can’t beat watermelon refreshment.
I asked Karina, the booth’s server, who typically comes to her for fresh fruit. “I think women and people with kids…They want their kids to eat healthy and have a portion of fruit every day. The kids like our lemonade and our fruit cups, because they are fresh. Kids always like fresh fruit.”
At Cardinali’s, Desiree told me they offered a popular wood fired margherita pizza with fresh basil and tomatoes and extra fresh veggies on top on request. At this stand, vegans could eat fried pineapple or watermelon, garlic fries, curly fries, and that’s about it… Anybody else ask for healthy food? “Health is a state of mind. The pizza is not Unhealthy,” she said, referring to the fresh ingredients. Desiree pointed out that portion control plays a big part, and that is the consumer’s job. But, “You don’t come to the fair for salad, you come to enjoy the fair food.”
Across the way, the deep-fried calamari stand had a generous, deep-fried veggie plate with artichokes, eggplant, onions and more. Of course, anything deep-fried involves batter and hot oil, but it’s healthier than frying dough around a hot dog or cheese.
At William Henry’s locale, they cooked up their open-faced sandwich called “the Hammer”, with layers of sautéed veggies, meat if you want it, cheese (or not) and the sauce of your choice, including a meat-free marinara. You could choose to be more healthy or less, but it wasn’t battered, fried, sugared and nutrient-free! I opted for the veggie version with marinara, and it had plenty of garlic, color, crunch and heartiness! William described the difficulty of bringing fresh food to the fair, saying there is no time to shop for local produce after 15-hour days, and gluten-free and other health foods are too expensive for fair-food pricing. “All I try to do is make something that people can feel good about. Who knows, they may push it and have an ice cream afterward, but… they’re at the fair, that’s what you are supposed to do,” he laughs. “I’ve run across some serious vegetarians, serious people watching my food coming out, and I have to tell them ‘We’re at the fair. It’s not ideal and gourmet,’ but if they eat that way, I can help.” Asked about the connection between the fair and farming, William said, “We’re from Fresno, so we know that fresh tomato taste. But where is that tomato? Maybe in the exhibits, but you can’t eat that one.”
Over at the adult drink section, a craft brewery offered a Caesar salad alongside their artisanal (but not gluten or dairy-free) pizza, and in the wine court, a cheese and fresh fruit platter was available. To be honest, under the shade-sails and misters, I was really tempted by the wine slushies (at least they are from local grapes) but I persevered in my search for fresh produce.
I expected to find more samples of California’s regional delicacies in the exposition building. Though the county exhibits were on display, few had a big show of produce. The booth touting strawberries had a documentary about folks who work in the fields, but no strawberries. There was honey-tasting, balsamic vinegar and specialty spreads to try, but you certainly couldn’t fill up on samples. The upcoming Pear Festival in Cortland (July 29th in Courtland) did offer freshly picked Bartlett pear samples to entice and inform fair-goers to visit their event. I asked organizer Haley Chan whether they serve deep-fried pears and got a good laugh, though pear pizzas and sandwiches will help promote the fresh goodness of pears. “We just love to celebrate something so fresh!”
I found Charles Reed representing Farm Fresh to You, a produce home-delivery service, sandwiched between phone services, bathroom remodelers, mortgage lenders, hot tub, and massage chair exhibitors. Where do you eat when you are here? “I brought my lunch. I tried to eat here on my first day, but I’m not going to pay $12 for corn-dogs. I’ll overpay for fruit, for something healthy, but I don’t want to overpay for something that will hurt me.”
Following signs to the farm area, where beautiful raised beds produce food that is donated to local food banks, I located the farm stand, where fresh peaches and juicy grapes were on display. Manager Angela Anderson said that they had tried a farmers’ market on the site, but it was too much for farmers to stay for the long hours for 17 days, so volunteers have taken on the work of providing fresh alternatives. She explained that some folks seek fresh fruit so they could offset that corn dog while others say “this is something I was looking for.” Fair employees and other vendors make the stand a daily stop. Families come for jumbo slices of watermelons and fruit bowls, sit at the picnic table to share as a family, hang out and cool off. What do you eat? Angela said, they are all about quality control and eating fresh fruit, but “We did have some of the calamari, and we like the garlic fries, and the wine slushies…”
It certainly took a lot of treasure-hunting to find the healthier gems here, but in spite of the fair’s trend away from the farm-fresh glories of California, there are some delicious options – whether for sticking to your lifestyle or doing damage control – even here in the heart of heart-stopping, coma-inducing junk food. The good news is, that all of the vendors with healthy options said they will be back again next year.
Into the belly of the beast! Through the smoke of grills and fryers!
Nobody can be a nutrition saint all the time, but what about the person who doesn’t or can’t eat deep-fried catfish and greasy, barbecued, over-sized turkey thighs? The vegetarians, vegans, diabetics, folks with heart conditions, lactose-intolerant and gluten-free folks? (Really there should be clearly marked defibrillators in the food court or an ambulance standing by.) I’m not looking for a booth with kale-and-quinoa-on-a-stick and beet-flavored shaved-ices. Just…something.